Of Little and Great Faith
by Jennifer Paros
Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.
When I begin working on a new picture, I start out feeling free. I sketch and see what lights up for me, then strive to develop it. There’s some waiting, staring, and listening for whatever comes into play next. Gradually, I recognize daytime or night, inside or out, wind or stillness, water or land or both, where I am, where I want to be. As the image focuses itself, usually, almost always, at some point I start to doubt. Early in the process, while in the “dark”, I find it easier to keep the faith, but as I see more, I am inclined to question whether I’ll be able to reach a satisfying conclusion.
This is my least favorite part of how I make pictures and of how I sometimes do life. I don’t like the part where I no longer trust whatever wings I was resting on before, and instead climb off, question, and start worrying. It’s uncomfortable at best: the stretch of road where there seems to be no legible signs of reassurance that I am still on course to what I want.
Though faith is often used in religious contexts and in more secular terms like faith in humanity and faith in ourselves, I don’t think the atheist nor any cynically inclined realist is ever left behind when considering what faith actually is. Though we may be called upon to be consciously faithful during trying times, we all routinely display faith day to day. There is no way to go from here to there without faith; regardless of how many times we’ve done it before, we don’t know what will happen this time. If we step into the kitchen and there’s never been an intruder there previously, that’s still not proof it won’t happen. We trust things will play out as usual - a reasonable thing, but one done without definitive supporting evidence. Even with bouts of worry, we all display innumerable acts of faith in the course of a day. Without faith, humans would be cripplingly inhibited – but we aren’t. Whether consciously affirming it or not, we have faith.
Faith is a softening of the mind’s demand for concretes and assurances, an allowance of the fuzzy and the unformed. At its best, faith is a quiet, stable regard for and awareness of life experiences coming more into focus. Much the way we appreciate the growing of a seed, or the evolution of an invention, we don’t know exactly what will happen, but we value the unfolding and know there will be one. When we allow it, we are all inclined towards this natural trust in the process, and in us as a part of it.
Faith is a passionate intuition.
~ William Wordsworth
In Cook County Jail in Chicago, Sheriff Tom Dart is pragmatic in his approach to running the facility; he also holds faith in an expanded vision for the inmates’ lives outside of prison. The jail serves about 7,500 – approximately half of whom Dart believes shouldn’t be there and are there “for the wrong reason”. Along with a program for the mentally ill and changes in staff and process, Sheriff Dart has brought in photography, cooking, and chess classes. For his critics, it’s hard to see the purpose or punishment in this soft approach. But Dart strives to provide an introduction to aspects of life and themselves that are unknown to the inmates. Through the classes, they’re given a chance to become aware of more that’s possible, in and outside of themselves, upon which they might build. Without this intuitive awareness of potential, there is little inspiration for them to create a new blueprint for themselves and nothing in which to have faith.
Every story is at one time unknown to its author. Pieces of narrative come into our awareness at different times; the writer may know the feeling but not the specifics or have clarity about the journey, but not the ending. At some point, something remains shadowed. And because we often can’t see what’s next, learning to rest in the feeling of what’s available and possible can bring peace to the process and open our eyes to its inherently trustworthy properties. Part of what inspires faith is awareness that there is more for us. When encouraged, we can all at least start to sense what is possible – even when we can’t yet see it. And with that consciousness follows faith – faith in ourselves and in the potential of creating something new and something better.
Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle. Please visit her website at www.jenniferparos.com.